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Thailand, officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam, is a Southeast Asian country with a total geographic area of roughly 198,000 square miles. Situated in the center of the Indochina Peninsula, the country shares its borders with Burma and Laos in the north, Cambodia and Laos in the east, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia in the south and the Andaman Sea in the west. The country also shares maritime boundaries with Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India in the Andaman Sea to the southwest. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a King serving as head of state and its capital and largest city is Bangkok.
According to a 2011 estimate, Thailand has a population of approximately 66.7 million, making it the 20th most populous country in the world, and a population density of 342 inhabitants per square mile. Native Thai represent the largest ethnic group in the country, accounting for roughly 75 percent of the total population. They are followed by those of Chinese heritage (14%) and Malay descent (3%), as well as other groups that comprise the remaining 8 percent of the population.
The lone official language in Thailand is Thai, a Tai-Kadai language that is closely related to Lao, Shan (spoken in Burma) and a number of other languages spoken in the regions of Hainan and Yunnan south of the Chinese border. Thai is used officially in government administration, commerce, media and education. It is also the first language of the vast majority of the population. Thailand is also home to several minority languages, the largest being the Lao dialect of Isan, a language spoken commonly in the northeast provinces. English is taught as a second language in Thai schools, but the number of fluent speakers remains very low. Buddhism is the national religion of Thailand, more specifically the Theravada branch of Buddhism, which is practiced by over 94 percent of the population. Muslims represent the largest religious minority group in the country at 4.5 percent of the population, followed by Christianity, which is practiced by roughly 1 percent of Thailand’s inhabitants.
Education in Thailand
Education in Thailand is governed and regulated by the Thai government through the Ministry of Education. Twelve years of school are provided free for Thai students, the first nine of which are mandatory under the Thai system of education. The education system is divided between five levels or stages: kindergarten, a two-year optional level of education for children between the ages of 4 and 5; primary school, a six-year stage of education (grades 1-6) for children between the ages of 6 and 12; lower secondary school, a three-year program of study (grades 7-9) for students ages 12-15; senior secondary or high school, a three-year stage of education (grades 10-12) for students ages 15-18; and tertiary and/or post-secondary education, which includes both universities and vocational/technical institutes.
At the primary and junior secondary level of basic education students are instructed in eight core subjects each semester: Thai language, mathematics, science, social science, health and physical education, art and music, technology and foreign language. Once a student reaches upper secondary education he or she can choose between several educational tracks depending on their interest and ability. Some of these tracks include the Science-Mathematics Program, English Program, Foreign Language Program (Chinese, French, German, etc) and Social Science Program. Students who successfully complete the three-year program of their choice in senior secondary school are awarded a diploma and are eligible to enroll at the university level.
Thailand has an excellent system of higher education, with several of the country’s top universities being consistently ranked among the world’s best, particularly in fields such as science, mathematics and biomedicine.
The adult literacy rate in Thailand (over 95 percent) is a reflection of the country’s commitment to education and their excellent system for delivering it to students.
Map of Thailand